King George County’s proposed budget includes pay raises for teachers, county employees and Board of Supervisors members, but no tax increase for residents, who’ve had higher real-estate tax bills three years in a row.
On Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors agreed to a spending plan that allocates $18 million in local funding toward schools as part of the $85 million county budget for fiscal year 2020. The total includes money from federal, state and local sources.
While the local funding for schools is $300,000 less than the School Board requested, the allocation will cover two items supervisors deemed most vital: pay raises for teachers and seven new special education positions.
“Budgets are not easy, be they for schools or the county,” said Supervisor John Jenkins Jr., who shared the School Board’s desire to keep teacher pay competitive. He said he still has “flashbacks” of his time as a student at King George High School, when a number of counselors left the county for better pay in a neighboring locality.
School Superintendent Rob Benson and County Administrator Neiman Young worked together on the budget, and each thanked the other for his commitment. “We may have different opinions, but the same yearning” for quality schools, Benson said.
They had help from an unexpected corner—retiring school staff members. An unusually large number of school workers, 18, are retiring this year, Benson said, and the resulting salary savings helped the county give schools the requested increase in funds without raising taxes.
The budget gives school employees a 2.85 percent cost-of-living salary increase as well as a step increase. County employees would get between a 1.25 percent to 2.75 percent pay increase based on their tenure. Senior staff members get the higher increase, part of Young’s compensation plan to reward loyalty.
The budget also includes a 12.5 percent increase in health insurance premiums for county workers, $190,000 toward the county’s ongoing effort to pay off debt, three new county positions and more money for Board of Supervisors members. Their annual pay of $5,000 hasn’t changed since 1986 and had been the lowest in the region. Board members discussed raising it two years ago, then dismissed it in light of other county needs.
If the budget passes, supervisors will make $15,000 a year, starting Jan. 1.
King George is able to fund the additional items in the budget without imposing a tax increase because it’s getting more revenue from taxes and county permits. The staff also trimmed the budgets of the 11 county departments, Young said.
He will present the final budget proposal to the Board of Supervisors at the regular meeting April 16. Supervisor Chairman Jeff Bueche wants members of its citizen advisory committee, who helped board members craft the budget, to attend so they can “have a say.”
Then, the county will hold a public hearing on the budget April 23 and formally adopt it April 30.
Residents already have spoken out about the proposal. As she’s done regularly in recent years, Kim Dodge, who lives in Hopyard, asked the board to seek out other sources of revenue besides taxpayers.
County teachers Karen Declute, Jennifer Truitt and Yvonne Richard said they’d support higher taxes to fully fund necessary services in the county. Localities must have a quality education system if they want to attract new businesses and stay competitive, said Declute, a teacher at Sealston Elementary School.
“Certainly, no one wants their taxes raised if it can be avoided,” Declute said. “However, we do need to be forward-thinking.”
Richard again chastised the supervisors for their “behavior while teachers and families were sharing concerns” during a March 25 budget work session. She said three people came to her after the meeting, expressing concerns that supervisors were eating, talking or looking at their phones while speakers described the demands placed on staff, particularly those who work with special education students.
Supervisor Ruby Brabo said she and fellow Supervisor Cathy Binder had “exchanged remarks about what we were learning and hearing” and meant no disrespect. “Trust me, we heard everyone loud and clear.”
Bueche, who drove from his job in Washington to his home to change clothes, then attend the meeting, apologized for eating gummy bears during the comment period. “I have an ulcer and low blood sugar,” he said. “Sorry if anyone was offended, that was not the intent.”